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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

MEN  OF MATHEMATICS
known to slip restaurant silver into their pockets and get away
with it.
One phase of Poincare's absent-mindedness resembles some-
thing quite different. Thus (Darboxrs does not tell the story, but
it should be told, as it illustrates a certain brusqueness of Poin-
care's later years), when a distinguished mathematician had
come all the way from Finland to Paris to confer with Poincarg
on scientific matters9 Poincare did not leave his study to greet
his caller when the maid notified him, but continued to pace
back and forth - as was his custom when mathematicizing - for
three solid hours. AD this time the diffident caller sat quietly in
the adjoining room, barred from the master only by flimsy
portieres. At last the drapes parted and Poincare's buffalo head
was thrust for an instant into the room. 'Vous me derangpz
beaucoup* (You are disturbing me greatly), the head exploded,
and disappeared. The caller departed without an interview,
which was exactly what the *absent-minded* professor wanted,
Poineare's elementary school career was brilliant, although
he did not at first show any marked interest in mathematics. :
His earliest passion was for natural history, and all his life he
remained a great lover of animals. The first time he tried out a
rifle he accidentally shot a bird at which he had not aimed. This
mishap affected him so deeply that thereafter nothing (except
compulsory military drill) could induce him to touch firearms.
At the age of nine he showed the first promise of what was to be
one of his major successes. The teacher of French composition
declared that a short exercise, original in both form and sub-
stance, which young Poineare had handed in, was "a little
masterpiece*, and kept it as one of his treasures. But he
also advised his pupil to be more conventional - stupidf*
- if he wished to make a good impression on the school
examiners.
Being out of the more boisterous games of his schoolfellows,
Poincare invented his own. He also became an indefatigable
dancer. As all his lessons came to him as easily as breathing he
spent most of his time on amusements and helping his moihaf
about the house. Even at this early stage of his career Pornoae*
exhibited some of the more suspicious features of his matrae
o&S